Several years ago, I presented a program Success: Determining and Achieving Your Purpose, Values and Goals for the ABA YLD fall meeting. 

Before I finished I asked for questions. One lawyer asked:

Cordell, in your experience, what separates the superstar young lawyers from the rest of the pack?

I did not hesitate:

The very best young lawyers I know have a “burning desire” to be the best at something they have chosen, and they work hard achieve it. I call it the “fire in the belly.”

I coached several of those lawyers and I recently helped one connect with a great firm. In each case, the lawyer put more into the coaching program, and his or her other learning, than just about any other lawyer I have ever met. Within minutes of meeting those lawyers for the first time, I knew they had a burning desire to learn and serve her clients.

I receive emails and letters from those lawyers sharing with me their great success-the success I believed they would have right from the beginning.

I learned about burning desire one summer while visiting my grandparents in Chester, Virginia. I didn’t know many teenagers in Chester so I spent more time at my grandparents home than I would have liked. One day I discovered that the sliding doors in their hallway opened to shelves and shelves of historical books.

One of the books I found that summer was “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. I included the book in my post: 18 Business and Law Books that Changed My Life.

As a teenager, I had never read a “self-help” book. I doubt I would have read this one if I had anything else I could do. Reading Think and Grow Rich really did change my life, in part, because I learned the concept of having a DEFINITE MAJOR PURPOSE. When I decided to become a lawyer, I asked myself why I wanted to practice law. That was a helpful exercise for me. 

Napoleon Hill was born into poverty in the coal fields of Wise County, Virginia in 1883.  You can learn more about his life by reading: Rich Man, Poor Man. As you will see, Hill accomplished some great things as an attorney and journalist but also had many failures along the way.

His big break came when he interviewed the wealthy steel baron, Andrew Carnegie. As you will see in the article, later Carnegie convinced Hill to write the book:

He issued a challenge to Hill: Commit the next 20 years, without compensation, to documenting and recording such a philosophy of success, and he would introduce him to the wealthiest and most successful men of the time. Hill jumped at the opportunity.

Because the book copyright has expired, there are many places where you can download the book at no charge. Here is one site to download Think and Grow Rich.

I have read the book many times over the last 50 years. I like to read it to re-energize myself. I believe the 13 principles he outlined in the early 1900s still apply today, almost 100 years later.

Consistent with my answer to the young lawyer’s question at the ABA YLD meeting, Hill’s first principle was “Desire.” He believed desire is the starting point of all achievement.

I was inspired by this statement in the chapter:

Every person who wins in any undertaking must be willing to burn his ships and cut all sources of retreat. Only by so doing can one be sure of maintaining that state of mind known as a BURNING DESIRE TO WIN, essential to success.

As you know, I love working with young, motivated lawyers, I focus on career success through taking control, setting energizing goals and planning. Each young lawyer with whom I work has unique talents, opportunities and challenges. 

I know that if the lawyers I coach set goals that will inspire them and energize them, they will be successful (as they choose to define success). Why? Put simply they will succeed because they have the BURNING DESIRE to achieve their own unique goals.

I think you will find this book extremely valuable just as I did, because it will give you a foundation it the 13 principles that can lead you towards achieving what you desire.

If you have 5 minutes, watch this video to get a preview of what you might learn from the book.

Have I convinced you? What do you have a BURNING DESIRE to achieve and become?

As you may remember when I was bored visiting my grandparents, I found  Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich on my grandfather’s bookshelf, dusted it off and read it.

It gave me a roadmap on how I could become successful. More importantly, the book helped me understand that becoming successful in my life would mean nothing if I was not also fulfilled.

Although it was published about 75 years ago during the depression, the points in the book still apply today.

Hill also wrote “Keys to Success.” The opening sentence in the book is:

Your progress toward success begins with a fundamental question: Where are you going?

Hill believed that the lack of a clear answer to that question is the stumbling block of 98 out of every 100 people since they never really define their goals and start toward them.

I know many lawyers who are feeling burned out. None I know have clearly defined what they want in their life and developed a plan to achieve it.

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Definiteness of purpose requires that you make choices. What is most important in your life? What is most important in your career? How can you make those important things compatible?

Once you have that figured out, I urge you to set a very ambitious goal. I like a quote attributed to Arnold Toynbee:

It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at the goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.

To find success and fulfillment answer these questions:
• Where are you going?
• Why is it important for you to get there?
• What do you want to do to get there?
• What is your first step?

Recently I was asked:

How long did it take before you had any results from your client development efforts?

I responded that it was at least two years and maybe more. I was then asked how I stuck with it when I was seeing no results. I responded that I guessed I wanted to develop my niche practice badly enough that I was willing to be persistent.

What does it mean to be persistent? I always look to words to inspire me. Let me share some with you.

Winston Churchill had a pretty good idea. He said:

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

I have always liked what Calvin Coolidge once said about the importance of persistence:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

If neither Churchill or Coolidge inspire you, perhaps Jimmy V can do it. Watch this short video clip from his ESPY award speech:

If you are a regular reader, you know that when I was a teenager I first read Napoleon Hill’s book. “Think and Grow Rich.” The book is really about what it takes to be successful. The title comes from the fact it was published during the depression, so the focus is on making money as a measure of success.

In the book, Napoleon Hill lists symptoms of a lack of persistence. Have you ever experienced any of these?

  1.  Failure to recognize and to clearly define exactly what one wants.
  2. Procrastination, with or without cause. (Usually backed up with a formidable array of alibis and excuses).
  3. Lack of interest in acquiring specialized knowledge.
  4. Indecision, the habit of “passing the buck” on all occasions, instead of facing issues squarely. (Also backed by alibis).
  5. The habit of relying upon alibis instead of creating definite plans for the solution of problems.
  6. Self-satisfaction. There is little remedy for this affliction, and no hope for those who suffer from it.
  7. Indifference, usually reflected in one’s readiness to compromise on all occasions, rather than meet opposition and fight it.
  8. The habit of blaming others for one’s mistakes, and accepting unfavorable circumstances as being unavoidable.
  9. WEAKNESS OF DESIRE, due to neglect in the choice of MOTIVES that impel action.
  10. Willingness, even eagerness, to quit at the first sign of defeat. (Based upon one or more of the 6 basic fears).
  11. Lack of ORGANIZED PLANS, placed in writing where they may be analyzed.
  12. The habit of neglecting to move on ideas, or to grasp opportunity when it presents itself.
  13. WISHING instead of WILLING.
  14. The habit of compromising with POVERTY instead of aiming at riches. General absence of ambition to be, to do, and to own.
  15. Searching for all the short-cuts to riches, trying to GET without GIVING a fair equivalent, usually reflected in the habit of gambling, endeavoring to drive “sharp” bargains.
  16. FEAR OF CRITICISM, failure to create plans and to put them into action, because of what other people will think, do, or say. This enemy belongs at the head of the list, because it generally exists in one’s subconscious mind, where its presence is not recognized.

One final thought before I let you go: Have you read or listened to the book: Unbroken? I have not seen the movie, but I loved the book. If you haven’t, I urge you to read or listen to it.

I cannot picture how I would have ever been resilient enough to endure what Louis Zamperini did. He is an inspiration for us all. He passed away at 97 last year. You can watch this CBS segment to learn more about him: Remembering the “Unbroken” spirit of Louis Zamperini.


Are you staying inside your comfort zone? I hope not. I recently read a Seth Godin quote:

Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.

I know many lawyers who are focused on results rather than focused on striving to get better. They fear failure to such a degree that they are unwilling to get outside their comfort zone. They are not learning about how to become better at client development. Instead they are focused on what they have been comfortable doing. When their efforts do not produce results, they give up.

What should you do instead? Work on getting better at things that are outside your comfort zone. If you want to learn how to network, go to events where you can practice. In fact, go to a networking event and approach strangers and introduce yourself.

If you want to become a better public speaker, speak in public. Consider joining a Toastmasters International Club, or starting your own speaking club. If you want to become a better writer, write and have someone review it and offer a critique. There are plenty of retired editors and senior lawyers, who would gladly critique your writing.

Beyond getting outside your comfort zone, think about a Napoleon Hill quote:

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.

I know many lawyers whose dreams are not big enough. They underestimate what they can do. They underestimate the quality of the clients they can attract. How big are your dreams?

Two lawyers I coached, who did not know each other, both shared with me that the most important thing they took away from the coaching was “Thinking/Dreaming Big.” Take a look at David Walton Daily Activities and then listen to Lizzette Zubey Dreaming Big. Both David and Lizzette were, and likely still are, energized by big possibilities.

boy questioning.jpgHow can I get you to think and dream big? I recently read The Awesome Power of Two Words. Obviously, Think Big are two powerful words, but in this case the writer had in mind: “What If…” He wrote that using those words will place the possibility in your mind. I agree.

I never used “What If…” Instead, I always used “Just Suppose…”

So, think of what you might believe is out of reach and then think: “Just Suppose…” I did it way back in 1978 when I thought:

Just suppose I became the best known transportation construction lawyer in the United States…

I am not positive I accomplished that, but I know for sure I came much closer than I would have had i not believed I could do it.

Napoleon Hill once said:

What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

Just suppose you…

Have fun finishing this sentence this weekend.

businessmen 2.jpgI know two lawyers I will call Ryan and Sam (not real names). They are both junior partners in firms that are about the same size. They both bill about the same number of hours annually.

Ryan is thoroughly enjoying a successful career and fulfilling personal life. Sam says he is burning out and feels like all he does is billable work for his firm.

Why do you suppose they are having different experiences? Is your career and life more like Ryan’s or more like Sam’s?

Here are the differences and how you can apply them to find your own career success and life fulfillment. It starts with attitude. As lawyers we are skeptical. But, too often we apply skepticism to our careers. I love this Winston Churchill quote: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

The difference between Ryan and Sam is that when thinking about their careers Sam frequently says: “yes, but” and Ryan says: “sure how.” Sam finds reasons it won’t happen and Ryan finds ways to make it happen.

The second difference is that Ryan knows exactly what he wants to accomplish in his career and life. Sam has focused more on what he does not want to do. Napoleon Hill, who studied successful people in the early 20th century, said it well: “There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.”

Successful lawyers have a clear idea of what they want and many actually visualize accomplishing it. You can’t visualize or get energy and a burning desire around what you don’t want. Ryan is a labor/employment lawyer. He knows what he wants both in his career and personal life and has a burning desire to achieve it. Because of his burning desire, he has set goals and has a plan and is not easily derailed.

The third difference is how Ryan and Sam define career success. Over the years Sam has defined success by his billable hours and money he is making. He is extrinsically motivated. Ryan finds meaning and success in how he contributes to help his clients succeed. He is intrinsically motivated.

Finally, Ryan is in the zone in whatever he is doing and Sam is easily distracted. When Ryan is working on a client matter he is in the zone. When he is teaching at a local college, he is focused on his students. Ryan frequently leaves the office early to coach his older son’s soccer team and baseball team. When he is coaching, he is in that moment and not distracted. He plans his personal life as well as his professional life.

Sam plans his billable time at the office, some time with his children and his time at church on Sunday, but not much beyond that. Sam doesn’t coach his children because he thinks his firm would frown on him leaving the office during the work day. Even when Sam is with his children, he has his iPhone with him in case he receives an email or telephone call. Sam is rarely in the zone and focused on the moment.

You can have a successful career and fulfilling personal life by:

  • Thinking and saying: “sure how,”
  • Having a definite purpose and a burning desire to accomplish it,
  • Finding meaning in your work by focusing on how you benefit your clients, and
  • By focusing on being in the moment at work and at home. When you are working on a matter, focus on that. When you are with your children, focus on them.